158. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to end the political appointment of judges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35232/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The judiciary and the courts which are at the heart of the justice system are constitutionally independent in their operation. As the Deputy will know, judges are appointed by the President pursuant to Article 35 of the Constitution on the advice of the Government pursuant to Article 13.9 of the Constitution.
Such appointments are dealt with by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board which was established pursuant to the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995. Under section 16 of the Act, where a judicial office stands vacant or before a vacancy in a judicial office arises, the Advisory Board submits to me, as Minister for Justice and Equality, the names of the persons recommended for appointment. I then bring the names to Government which decides on the person(s) to nominate to the President for appointment. This system has operated, in accordance with the Constitution, under successive Governments since 1995, and our independent judiciary has served the country extremely well.
In this regard I was pleased to note the conclusions in the Council of Europe's Group of States against corruption Fourth Round Evaluation report on Ireland which found the Judiciary to be among the most trusted public institutions in the country. It is significant that the principle of judicial independence should be recognised by an international evaluation team such as GRECO and that the independence and professionalism of our judges is undisputed.
The need to ensure and protect the principle of judicial independence was a significant factor in the consultations process on the system of judicial appointments carried out last year. Another factor was that, while the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board process was a model of best practice in its day, almost 20 years from its establishment it was considered worthwhile to review the operation of the entire judicial appointments system to ensure it reflects current best practice, that it is open, transparent and accountable and that it promotes diversity.
There was a significant response to the call for submissions with substantive and wide-ranging views received about the legislative framework that provides for eligibility for judicial appointment and for the actual process of appointment. Arising from the consultations process, draft legislative provisions to reform and update judicial appointment procedures are being prepared by my Department and such legislation is part of the Agreed Programme for Government. The review and reform of this area which is of critical importance to the functioning of our system of justice provides an opportunity to determine what system can best respond to the expectations and needs of a modern State.